Lack Of Affordable Healthcare And Access Leaves Palouse and LC Valley Residents Behind


For those seeking routine health care services in the Palouse and Lewis Clark Valley, meeting that need is often out of reach.

A needs assessment by the Innovia foundation and Lewis Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation found that among the many health care barriers residents face, one of the biggest is affordability.

The study surveyed residents in Latah County, North Central Idaho, Nez Perce County and Southeast Washington. Of respondents, 40% indicated some degree of need in their household for affordable dental care, ranging between “strong need,” “moderate need” and “slight need.” 36% indicated a need for more affordable health care overall, and 22% mental health services or family counseling.

Limited access to health care has big health impacts long-term, said Mason Burley, director of Research and Community Impact for Innovia. When people postpone health care or dental care, it often costs more later.

“That [is] a good example of timed economic insecurity, if you put off dental care, if you don’t have benefits that cover dental care, if you have a dental emergency, you know, that’s going to be a large cost,” he said. “That was one thing that really stood out.”

One survey participant quoted in the study said they struggled to find a dental provider in their area that accepted Medicaid. The high need for dental care is likely due to a combination of few Medicaid and low-cost dental options available, and exacerbated problems caused by care being postponed in the first place, Burley said.

Last year, the Community Health Association of Spokane received a $75,000 grant from the Lewis-Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation for expanding access to affordable dental care in the LC Valley Region. Some services, like Smile Mobile, work to try and fill in for unmet needs. How far those services will go to fill the gap is yet to be seen.

In Whitman county, twenty-four percent of those respondents said they had postponed dental care, and nineteen percent had postponed medical care, due to cost. 

The causes for that need may include a lack of access to providers that accept Medicaid and low-cost clinics. In the past year, COVID-19 has also put an added strain on medical systems, potentially backlogging services that might already be delayed

This story is part of an ongoing series by NWPB exploring health care challenges in our region.